||Needham Market is a busy
little town, more a large village really,
just off of the A14. It is close enough
to Ipswich and Stowmarket for the big
supermarket chains to have ignored it,
and so it still has a good selection of
local shops, including a decent art
supplies shop, as well as six pubs. I
like it a lot for this.
John the Baptist is quite different from
any other church in Suffolk. It has an
urban setting on the main street, hemmed
in by old buildings on three sides. But
this is no grand town church, and you
might not even notice it if it wasn't for
the curious little spire on the porch,
and the high clerestory
like the bridge of a ship. Indeed, this
church was just a chapel of ease to Barking
until 1901. It has no churchyard, and
there is no tower.
was built during the second half of the 15th
century, and set in the expanse of restored
knapped flint is an inscription carved in stone: Pray
we all for grace, for he yt hav holpe ys place
God reward he for her ded & hev'n may be her
meed. There is an archway in the north east
buttress. This was to allow the Corpus Christi
procession to encircle the church without leaving
John the Baptist underwent several massive
restorations in the late 19th century, but it is
still a goal for church explorers seeking the
finest that the late medieval period has to
offer, because this is one of the great Suffolk
church interiors. You step inside, and find
yourself far beneath a roof which seems
impossible. To look up into his extraordinary
double hammerbeam roof is
like looking down into the hull of a ship, and a
feeling of vertigo would be completely
understandable. Cautley thought it had no equal
in all of England.
wall plates emerge into coving which hides the
tops of the walls and creates a church in the
sky. An 18th century ceiling was removed in the
late 19th century to reveal the roof, which at
that time was continuous through the nave and the
chancel. The nave part was then raised, and the
north clerestory was added to match that on the
south side. The angels are Victorian, and are
John the Baptist was obviously a star of the High
Anglican tradition. The glass in the east window
depicts Christ on the cross above the agnus
dei symbol of the church's patron Saint, and
there is another agnus dei on the late
19th century font. In 1953, a rood screen was
reinstated, but in the mid-1990s it was taken out
again, and reused as panelling behind the altar.
The white walls are lined with what must be one
of the best sets of Stations of the Cross in
Suffolk. They were installed in 2000.
|The south door is modern,
but it preserves panels from the medieval
door which was probably the original.
Another 15th century door, a more unusual
survival, is the priest entry to the
The church is
obviously a busy, lively focus for this
lovely town. But the world does not stand
still, and I am told that St John the
Baptist is about to undergo a reordering.
The plan is to make it suitable for daily
use by both the church community and the
people of Needham Market as a whole. Part
of the plan is for a nave altar set at
right angles to the high altar, allowing
a church in the round while preserving
the traditional arrangement.
I look forward to seeing it.
This is a lovely, living church
preserving the best of its past in a
building suited to the future.